Growth through Gratitude
Growth through Gratitude
By Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S
Thinking about personal growth by way of gratitude honestly sounds so cliche. “Be grateful for what you have,” was a phrase I heard regularly as a kid. This was usually followed by “children in Africa don’t have….” fill in the blank. I grew up so worried for the children of Africa who had nothing, and yet I still ate my vegetables with disgust while trying to figure out how to mail them across the ocean.
For many of us, gratitude often comes with a feeling of guilt. Perhaps the reason for this looks something like my example, where an authority figure taught you that you were obligated to feel grateful for what you have. Maybe we feel undeserving of what we have or are confused about why others are less fortunate. This feeling of guilt may lead you further from the mental headspace of acknowledging your gratefulness, if only to avoid feeling badly. This is totally and completely understandable because no one wants to invite negativity into their day.
Now that I am an adult, and not being shamed into eating my veggies, I see gratitude in a whole new way. Released from obligation, I see acknowledging the good things in my life as a way to train my brain to see the joyful moments of daily living, rather than the trials I encounter each day. We sometimes wonder why some people are so easily pleased. How do they always find the silver lining in a situation or are always in such a good mood? How do some people let the negative go so quickly, while others can’t seem to see past it? The answer is gratitude.
Yes, some people are predisposed to be more pleasant because their personality is slanted to see more good than bad, but mostly, the happier group works to see the good instead of the bad. They don’t let themselves swim in self-deprecation, blaming, victimhood, or pity. Instead, they actively look for something positive from their circumstances. They risk being called a dreamer or naive, as if their work is somehow effortless. At the same time, the “realists” seek out the pitfalls, reject gratitude, and lean on cynicism to keep disappointment at bay. Unfortunately, what they are really keeping out of their grasp is happiness and joy.
I work with so many people who ask me how they can let go of stuff, be more positive, have more happiness, and feel more love. The answer I have given every single time has been “be more grateful.” I’m not talking about fake gratitude like, “I should be grateful I missed my bus.” No one is grateful for being inconvenienced, and pretending we are is bullshit.
Authentic gratefulness may require a bit of creativity and reframing a situation. “I am grateful I have an extra hour to sit and read while I wait for my bus.” This doesn’t negate the fact that you would have rather caught the bus and went about your day uninterrupted. You are not thrilled that your schedule is now rearranged or that you may have disappointed someone in your tardiness. All of that may still be present in your mind, but now so is a positive. In this example, you had to really look for something good about this moment, and now that it has been identified you can come back to that thought every time the negative pops in reminding you of what a pain the situation is. “At least I got an hour of “me time” out of this.”
The practice of being grateful takes time, but please believe me when I say it is worth the effort. You don’t have to take my word for it because this topic has been researched and reviewed thousands of times and has been proven to increase happiness and positivity. Here are a few ways you can increase your gratitude and practice finding positivity.
- Gratitude Journal
- Nothing fancy necessary here. Grab a journal or use the notes app on your phone and jot down 3 things you are grateful for in your day. Be simple. My list often looks like this: morning coffee, warm clothes from the dryer, hug from my friend.
- In the moment SOS
- When you feel yourself getting agitated or heated, take a mental break and find one thing that you can appreciate. Example: You are stuck in traffic with awful and rage-filled drivers. You feel yourself ready to blow your top and lay on your horn. Take a moment to breath and find one thing you are grateful for around you. Maybe it’s a good song is on the radio, maybe you have a nice view of the city, maybe you have a moment of acceptance. Find anything your brain can hang onto in order to gain restful positivity.
- A meditation routine can be so incredibly helpful in changing brain patterns. To increase your gratitude and positivity, try letting yourself meditate on this phrase: “What am I most grateful for?” Then, don’t answer. The answer isn’t important, but the question is. It sets your brain up for the expectation to answer that question throughout the entire day. You can visualize asking yourself in a mirror or standing outside of yourself and gently asking, “Who or what are you grateful for?”
- If meditation is difficult for you, I recommend the Headspace App, for guidance and inspiration in the practice of meditation. To be honest (and no one at headspace has ever heard of me or knows how often I recommend this app), I could not and would not have a meditation practice in my own life without the guidance of this app. I encourage you to find something that helps–even if it is not this particular app.
Gratitude is not about feeling guilty. Gratitude is about finding ways to appreciate your world in your own way. The more you look for the good, positive moments, the less you will fixate on the harder, more painful moments. Being grateful is a gift we can give ourselves and should strive to work towards as we grow into the best version of ourselves.